(If Eight is Enough, then Twenty is More Than Plenty!)
Welcome Back, Dance Fans! Wasn't the two week wait because of 4th of July nearly unbearable? As if to make up for missing out on all the Independence Day celebrations, almost everyone will be mentioning fireworks and firecrackers when referring to the dancers tonight. Just to review the field, we have 8 contempos, 3 ballers, 3 ballerinos, 2 Jazz Hands, 1 Tokyo Popper, 1 Kung Fu Hustler, 1 Steppin' Timer and 1 Shake Shake Shakira. Such a wide open field, and we're still not even losing anyone this week! All these kids are fighting for one of two gender-specific titles. Favorite Guy! Favorite Girl! Time to leave some blood on the dance floor.
Cat pops up on the screen and suddenly life is so much better than it was just moments before. The screen tells us they are LIVE, but I wonder aloud how much of the show won't actually be pre-taped. Case in point: we cut to a group number that is definitely not happening live. It's another Top 20 routine (will we get a THIRD one to open next week's show? That seems like a lot for one season!) with choreo chores going to Christopher Scott. All 20 are actually dancing! No one is injured. Janelle didn't manage to get a concussion falling off a diving board or having her arm caught in a snack vending machine or something. Hooray! The routine is a little Mad Men style , a little Office Space monotony and a ton of great staging and movement. They are dancing to "Architect of the Mind" by Kerry Muzzey. Lots of quick movements. Lots of great synchronicity. While there is some musical chairs action going on with the dancers to give them all a chance for decent camera positioning, but still it seems like some of them get stuck further back in the crowd than others for longer periods of time. Overall, I liked this number! Good times!
Now it's time for the actual show intro. This part I believe is LIVE. Since there are 20 dancers to get through, this part seems to last a solid 30 minutes, but I don't mind as this part is actually one of my favorite bits of the show. I bet most super-fans feel the same. The biggest Studio-Audience cheers are for Daniel, Dareian, Janelle, Lindsay, Matthew and Witney. These are the gulls! And here are your guys! Everybody pose! The announcer messes up and cuts out before introducing Cat to the stage. You can see the dancers have an "oh shit" moment behind their eyes when he goes silent. They aren't allowed to break the pose until the guy introduces Cat! If he never introduces her, will they have to stay there until the first commercial break comes along? Luckily it doesn't come to that. Cat comes out on stage laughing off the little mess up. Such a pro! Then she basically calls Mary Murphy "Mia Michaels." So I guess the show is not so sharp jumping out of the gate tonight. The guest judge tonight is Kenny Ortega, who seems to really like this show. He's always around! Shouldn't he be off making movies? Well, he won't be for the next two hours at least!
Tonight, along with Dance reviews I will be rating the initial pairings of the contestants on a scale of 1 to 5: 5 being a Power Couple, 3 being an Odd Couple and 1 being Irreconcilable Differences. Usually, the show tries to pair one contestant who has had a lot of previous screen time with one who has had less in an effort to have the lesser known survive on the other's popularity for a few weeks. But we are not voting for couples this year! Only individuals! There are all new numbers and you can text a person's name in to vote for them as well. If people text "Whitney" instead of Witney will those votes be discounted?? There is no more time for questions! It's time to DANCE!
Witney and Chehon: Couple Rating 5. These two have gotten lots of screen time, are truly excellent in their own genres and are totally gorgeous physical specimens. Witney would do fine on her own with any partner, but I'm hoping she can loosen up Chehon, who sometimes seems tight when he's not soloing.
Their Dance: Samba (Louis Van Amstel) "Jump" — The Cube Guys & Lucinana
Cheon cannot move his hips. He tries, but you can tell it goes against all his training. Witney's all "no sweat. baby. Get me going and I'll be all they can see!" This is a mostly successful strategy. A few times Cheon just seems like he's thinking too much. He's not alive enough in his face, which brings even more attention to his non-moving hips. It's not a bad first performance for them, but it also hasn't set the bar incredibly high for the night. Nigel loves Witney, but rightly points out some flaws in Chehon's movement. Mary also mentions the foot problems for Cheon but notes that he's gorgeous and amazing and he'll get better. Kenny loves Whitney and encourages Cheon to let go more into the dance. We'll have to see how these two stack up against the others, but Witney in bottom 3 girls seems like an absurdity.
George and Tiffany: Couple Rating 4. You may recall George from his Atlanta audition when Debbie Allen said "This child is fierce!" So much like Witney, his partner was kinda insequential. It's more of a coup for Tiffany that she's with him, because George will be awesome and if she brings it their routines will really stand out and she could win a lot of fans very quickly. Which will be good because she didn't get a lot of attention in the audition rounds and has a virtual Jazz Hands twin lurking elsewhere in the competition.
Their Dance: Contemporary (Sonya Tayeh) "Turning Page"— Sleeping At Last
This routine is about a love affair. It's very very good. Both dancers just completely give over to the movement. There's a lot of great physical control and partnering. There's just a great connection going on between them already. Well done! Nigel LOVES George. Mary appreciated how the both surrendered to Sonya's choreography. Sonya, in the audience is of course thrilled with them both. Kenny loves it too. Nigel notes Sonya softer side is coming through and insinuates she might have found love in a hopeless place since we saw her last season. Hmmm!
Brandon and Janaya: Couple Rating 1. Wow. Someone wants these two gone. Not only did the show not bother to showcase either of them during the audition rounds, they have very different energies and he's so much bigger than her. This is a weird pair. Considering that they are actually getting rid of 4 contestants next week from the bottom 6 instead of 2, if these two don't have a remarkable first dance I think their fate is sealed.
Their Dance: Hip-Hop (Tabitha and Napoleon) "Take Care"—Drake featuring Rihanna
Concept: Battling Alcoholism. Oof. Really, NappyTabs? First off, let me say congrats to a HUGELY pregnant Tabitha. Let's see what that kid can do on SYTYCD Season 28! But back to the choreo and the music. It's very literal storytelling and the music is too... peppy? bouncy? There's no weight to it, and a fight over drinking too much might require a little more heft to the music to make it work, you know? The hip hop is very fluid and I think Brandon and Janaya are in sync and hitting it well, but they have an almost impossible task in front of them. Virtual Unknowns, doing a so-so routine to a poorly matched song. Nigel is like, "You are lovely, but packing your bags would not be unwise." Mary wanted it grittier from Janaya. Kenny says something about how NappyTabs is turnin hip-hop into a storytelling medium. Someone remind him he's been on the show many times and has seen there work and it's not new. Overall, despite doing an adequate job with no real mistakes, it's not good news for these two.
Alexa and Daniel: Couple Rating 5. Both had a lot of screen time and are incredible likable. Physically they match up well. Should be great for them!
Their Dance: Jazz (Sean Cheesman) "Hey Hey"— (DF's Attention Vocal Mix) - Dennis Ferrer
Concept: Every trick in the book, plus scaffolding! They are both dressed in these BRIGHT red costumes, head to toe shiny red fabric. It looks very slippery too, which is terrible for all the body contact choreo they have to perform. I don't like this routine at all. It's a lot of moves, but no motivation. They both look concerned with just getting through it. There are some neat moments, but overall this is a missed opportunity to have two well-liked contestants get a good start. Nigel tries to do damage control. He doesn't like throwing choreographers under the bus like the guest judges often do, but he basically says to the viewing audience that if you didn't like it, the reason was because you didn't understand how technically difficult it was and you should vote for them anyway. Kenny was impressed with the exercise of it, but wasn't really taken with the actual performance, and I think that's pretty spot on. Alexa an Daniel both are like "Damn, I was hoping for better than that." Me too, kids. Me too.
Amber and Nick: Couple Rating 2. I just don't like them together. He looks way to young for her. She's not even old! I just think she has a maturity to her that he lacks, so I don't really see their connection or chemistry. Maybe the rest of America will disagree.
Their Dance: Viennese Waltz (Jason Gilkison) "Nights in White Satin"—Tina Arena
Concept: Spin around the stage like all Viennese Waltzes must do! Before we get to the dance, in rehearsal Jason turns into the version of himself from the Darkest of Timelines and is really not nice to Nick. He's trying to push him to excel in his own genre, but it comes off really menacing. The dance itself is very lovely and does what it needs to do.They spin and spin and spin, at one point when Nick puts her down, it seems like she's gonna spin right off to the ground, but it might just be the camera angle in the moment. They both did a good job with a not-incredibly-exciting dance style. Mary thought it was dreamy. She notes Amber is wearing super-uncomfortable shoes. Nigel tells Nick to not look so anxious on camera, because in HD your nerves really shine through to us folks at home. He also tells Amber not to collapse too much and rely on her core. The judges are giving some good constructive advice this week, I think.
Amelia and Will: Couple Rating 4. Amelia has been all over the show from the beginning and Will not so much, but he is a GIANT and a weirdo and so you notice him in this crowded field. Will they have strong chemistry together? I'm not sure, but I think this pairing makes sense and could have really good results.
Their Dance: Hip-Hop (but it's really Jazz) (Tabitha and Napoleon) "The Lovecats"—The Cure
Concept: Lady and the Tramp with Cats! Tabitha and Napoleon call it "character-pop" in the package, but I swear to you that it's Jazz. The routine is actually a lot of fun and has a lot of personality and they are really in sync with each other hitting some very quick moves throughout. The signature move of the piece is when Will grabs Amelia's leg from down on the floor and flips her up to over his shoulder. WHAT? How did that happen?. Kenny loves Amelia. Nigel loves this partnership, and the high levels of personality on display.
Dareian and Janelle: Couple Rating 5. The show LOVES Dareian and is fascinated by accident-prone Janelle, so they should be a very fun couple to watch... as long as Janelle can stay injury-free which is super definitely NOT a given.
Their Dance: African Jazz (Sean Cheesman) "Jungle" — HILKiHT Tribe
This performance seems to go just as fast as Cheesman's earlier Scaffolding Piece, but it's much more satisfying. Dareian and Janelle have great energy and skill, there's juuust enough breathing room for some personality to shine through and it's fun and exciting and impressive. Nigel loves them. Mary loves them. Kenny loved how there seemed to be so many different cultural influences throughout the routine and thought they were like fire dancing across the stage. These two are gonna go far.
Eliana and Cyrus: Couple Rating 3.5 I like both of them individually and they should be easy vote-getters but as a pair, will they really bring out each others strengths? What will they be like in ballroom? Will the producers have them dodge that category until we get all the way to the All-Star Partners at Top 10? I wonder...
Their Dance: Broadway (Tyce Diorio) "Run and Tell That"—Hairspray (Original Broadway Cast)
Concept: Take the detention setting from the original show's staging, none of the meaning behind the song and smile! I don't like the choreo here at all. It has no real connection to wi the song. And I really like this song. I thought it was one of the best parts of the movie and the stage show. But this is just kinda stupid. Eliana and Cyrus are both like "forget this lame routine, you like us!" while they are dancing. And they are mostly successful. The judges go out of their way to praise Tyce and Tyce goes out of his way to bask in the glory. The routine wasn't one of his worst, but it wasn't one of his best either. Nigel admits that Cyrus still has a long way to go to be a Capital D Dancer like some of the other guys in the competition, but that he has the right attitude and facility to get there. Eliana, apparently, is already at the top of the heap of the girls.
Audrey and Matthew: Couple Rating 4. So the show gave the two Jazz Hands girls two of the most dreamy Contempo Boys as partners. Interesting. I think Matthew and Audrey could be a very successful couple. They have a very good chemistry between them and both seem fun and fearless. Bring it!
Their Dance: Contemporary (Travis Wall) "Unchained Melody"—The Righteous Brothers
Concept: Titanic meets Ghost! I don't know why you'd take one instantly known story and match it with an equally recognizable song from a totally different pop culture property, but that's what Travis does, and somehow it really works. It could be in part because Matthew and Audrey are INCREDIBLE together.
DAMN. They have so much power and sensuality and speed. There are lifts! There are jumps! There are mid-air leg kicks that could decapitate a person. Holy damn. Well done, kids. Well done.The judges all fawn over Travis, but I wish they'd remember his season was actually 7 SEASONS AGO and so people can't vote for him. Just show the commercial for his Oxygen show once every commercial break and we'll know you think he's the best. He is the best! But don't forget about loving the dancers who do need the votes right now.
Cole and Lindsay: Couple Ranking 4.5. Lindsay has gotten screentime, but has been a little bit in Witney's shadow. Cole has been around, but what will he be like when he's not acting like a ninja? This is an interesting pairing, with a couple loose variables and intangibles between them. If they connect the right way they could really help each other towards dominating the competition.
Their Dance: Paso Doble (Jason Gilkison) "Unstoppable"—E.S. Posthumus
Concept: Lindsay is Poison and Cole is fighting for his life! Cole is great here. Really really strong in his paso stance and footwork. Lots of grand battle poses. But the thing I really love here is what's going on in Lindsay's eyes. Over the arc of the routine there is so much going on. There's desire, temptation, fear, anger, lust - Linsday is selling the hell out of this dance. I love it. They get a standing ovation. Mary is looking around all "Where the eff did this come from?" She says it was Jason's best paso choreo ever for the show, and Nigelis super impressed with Cole and makes him confess he's been trained in more than martial arts because, COME ON. Dude can dance.
So the routines in my order of preference:
Cole and Lindsay's paso doble
Audrey and Matthew's contemporary
Dareian and Janelle's African jazz
George and Tiffany's contemporary
Amelia and Will's "jazz-hop"
Chehon and Witney's samba
Amber and Nick's Viennese waltz
Brandon and Janaya's hip-hop
Alexa and Daniel's jazz
Cyrus and Eliana' Broadway
With everyone having individual phone numbers, I have no idea who will be bottom three. Maybe some individuals in great routines aren't as popular as some folks who kinda stumbled this week. The big question for me will be where Alexa and Daniel fall, because the show invested a lot of time in their stories but their routine wasn't very inspiring.
We have to wait a week to find out! Next week could feature ANOTHER Top 20 Routine, The Standard Intro, 10 Partner Routines, a Bottom 3 Guys and Girls Reveal and eliminations for 4 contestants - all in 2 hours time! I think in an effort to cram it all in we won't see anybody dancing for their life, but this show is all about shaking up the format this year, so don't be surprised if Nigel still has a few dramatic cards hidden up his sleeves!
Until next time, Dance Fans!